Being a part of the world famous Harlem Globetrotters is enough to put you among a select group of people in history. But to also be the first female to don the red, white and blue since 1993 is something that puts Fatima ‘TNT’ Lister in a category of her own.
Now in her fifth season with the Globetrotters, Lister has become one of the stars of the show wherever the team travels to, including Dubai where they’ll showcase their skills later this month on October 28.
During the Globetrotters’ anti-bullying presentation to children in the Emirates this week, Sport360 spoke to TNT about what it’s like to be a Globetrotter, her college coach at Temple, the times she met Barack Obama and played basketball on a horse, and more.
You and other members of the Globetrotters were talking to Dubai schools about anti-bullying. How was that experience?
You know what, this is always one of the highlights of our trips, at least for me. This is something I’ve been passionate about for a long time. Now that I get to go around the world, speak to kids and inspire them, to just be better… With our anti-bullying programme – unfortunately bullying has definitely become a big problem – we feel like if we can nip it in the bud at a younger age, we can really put a dent in the issue. It means a lot to be able to come and speak to the kids.
What does it mean to you to be a Harlem Globetrotter?
It means a lot to me, simply because it gives me an opportunity not only to tell kids they can be anything, but to kind of show them. Being the only female on the court at any given time speaks volumes. Now I can go around the world and tell young boys and girls ‘Hey, if you work hard you never know where it’ll land you.’ It means a lot to me.
How did you make the transition to joining the Globetrotters?
They invited me to try out and I didn’t know a woman had ever been on the team because it had been 20 years since there was one, so I just showed up with no expectations.
It’s a different world. It’s different than your traditional basketball, although it has traditional basketball in it. You become an entertainer as well and I really wasn’t an entertainer. But I’m really surprised at how much I like doing it, how much I like entertaining people and what we do off the court. I think it brought together all these different elements I like to do so it’s been awesome.
What would you say is your favourite part of being a Globetrotter?
The fans are awesome. It seems like we play in a different city every single night, especially in the United States, and you never know what you’re going to get with the fans so that’s always awesome.
I get to see the world, so that’s one of the bigger perks for sure.
As a woman who shares the court with guys and shows she’s just as good, if not better, what message does that send?
I think it’s bigger than basketball. It kind of sends a message about life. Whatever you want to do, whether it’s in the workforce, in sports, in school or whatever it is, you have a shot. A lot of people count themselves out before they even get started. You have a shot and you never know what’s going to happen, so just get out there and give it a try.
How did you get into basketball?
I kind of just stumbled across a pick-up game while I was at school. I was on a lunch break and walking around and I saw these guys playing basketball so I just stopped and watched. I just fell in love with the sport and ever since that day, I’ve probably played every single day for years.
I love not only the physically act of playing, but it helped me socially and in so many different ways, discipline-wise. I was about 12 or 13, so I started a little late, but like I said I just fell in love with it and practiced so much.
I played a little bit of volleyball as well and I did track and field. Nothing was like basketball to me though. It’s my first love sport.
While you were growing up, or even now, are there any players you look up to or try to emulate?
I have a lot of players I like just physically and watching them on the court. But for me, I really have to get to know the player to look up to them on a personal level.
My college coach at Temple actually is in the Hall of Fame, her name is Dawn Staley. I got a chance not only to see her on the court, but to see what she does in the community, see what she does for her family. She created such a good environment for our basketball team that made me want to emulate that for sure.
What would you say if your fondest memory of your basketball career?
I actually got to play at the White House with Barack Obama. So that was awesome. When will you ever be able to do something like that? And he was so cool and down to Earth. He made you feel so comfortable, like he was just one of the guys playing pick-up. And he’s got a nice little shot too. That’s not just me being nice because he’s the President. And he was cool and had a lot of fun with the kids, so it was fun.
The Globetrotters do a lot of community stuff so one time I got to play a basketball game called ‘p-i-g’ or ‘h-o-r-s-e’. So we played ‘p-i-g’ sitting on horses. We were actually working with kids who use the horses for physically therapy, so we got to go out and shoot on this little basketball hoop while we were on horses. Just to see their faces light up just for that small act, that always sticks out in my mind for some reason. It was an awesome experience.
You mentioned you get to travel to a lot of cool places all across the world. Is there anywhere that stands out in your mind or was a place on your bucket list you got to cross off?
Well actually Dubai was one that was on my bucket list, so I’m glad I got to come here, it’s my first time. But some other places I enjoyed were New Zealand and Australia. It was beautiful there and the people were really nice. I liked Monaco, I thought it was really beautiful. Those are the ones that really stick out.
Do you have any other hobbies that take up your spare time?
I like to draw and paint, so I like to do that in my spare time. I don’t have that much time for it because it’s so time-consuming, but when I get a chance.
I can find uniqueness in a lot of art, so I wouldn’t say there’s any one artist I particularly like.